Monday 11 December 2017

What does it mean to be a man?

Our student group Loughborough HeadsUp discuss the importance and necessity of encouraging all men to be more open about their mental health.

-Hannah Timson

"To be a man is to be honest and to be human" 

What does it mean to be a man? This is a question that I've always been puzzled by. Sweeping gendered stereotypes aside, is there really any difference between the answer to this and what it means to be a woman? Surely the real question here should be; What does it mean to be human? And the answers to that question could not possibly be condensed into this blog post. So instead I'll just give you a few:

Strength. Humility. Integrity. Love. Pain. Truth. Honesty.

Sounds fair? But the issue comes when you split these terms down into Gender. Society has conditioned both men and women to believe that they should act and behave in a certain way. This is why when the majority of men are questioned about the qualities of a man, they will reply with words associated with power, strength and action as opposed to emotion. Why is it considered "unmanly" by society to hide your true feelings behind this facade we have constructed surrounding men?

We have also be releasing material surrounding the campaign on a daily basis. This has included a leaflet about Male Mental Health which has been circulated around campus; the daily release of a photo of a famous figure who has suffered with their own mental health, a list of their successes and a famous quote, and finally a campaign video featuring some of the most reputable names at Loughborough talking about the stigma behind Male Mental Health. We have been overwhelmed by the incredible reaction we have had to the video and you can find it here to see for yourself:

One of the men we interviewed as part of the video was Loughborough Students Union President 17/18, George Etherington. We have been speaking to George throughout our campaign as it is something he feels incredibly strong about and is very close to his heart. This is what he had to say in another interview earlier in the campaign:

"We need to teach people to redefine their definition of masculinity. We need young boys to grow up knowing that it is ok to be exactly how they are and to feel how they feel, not needing to "man up"and not needing to "be a man about it" ... To me, putting on a brave front isn't bravery. To me, bravery is being open and honest. Be vulnerable, let people see your emotions. I can't think of anything braver than allowing someone to see you for you."

Mental Health affects everyone, regardless of race, religion, nationality, colour or gender. So why do men feel so ashamed, why have they developed this unconscious belief that it is manly to hide what is hurting you?

Suicide is now reported as being the biggest cause of death for men under 35, with 1 in 8 men in the UK are experiencing a common mental health disorder, yet it is a significantly lower number whom actually declare this to anyone.

We have been raised surrounded by this masculinised social construct that men should not cry; that they not meant to feel insecure or vulnerable; that emotion and worry are wrong and that the strong minded and unempathetic archetype of men portrayed in films and the media will lead to success. That it makes them weak. They are not ashamed or affected because of it because the majority sought the help that they needed.

You are not going to make it through life untouched by moments of misery or sadness or fear. But these unwanted emotions are what make us unequivocally human. It is ok to be vulnerable. It is ok to feel. And it is ok to reach out for a helping hand. It makes you brave, not weak to do so. We should never be ashamed to be human.

Hi, my name is Hannah and I am currently in my final year studying English Literature at Loughborough University. I have suffered with panic attacks from a young age and was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression shortly after starting university. I set up my own blog as an outlet and started writing about my experiences in order to ensure that people knew that this wasn't a diagnosis to be ashamed of and to help others to come out and talk about their own struggles with someone they could trust. This year, I am working as Communications Officer for Loughborough Heads Up, the university's student led mental health awareness group who run campaigns around campus to raise awareness and work towards breaking the stigma surrounding Mental Health once and for all.

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